The controversy focuses on a request received by city staff this summer from Tuggs Inc., the Beaches enterprise which in 2010 won a 20-year exclusive food rights deal for Woodbine Beach Park, Ashbridges Bay Park, Beaches Park, and Kew Gardens Park.

In August, a staff report advised that Tuggs had requested permission from the city to assign part of its exclusive food rights to Cara Inc., a large corporation known for its chain restaurant brands.

The request has reopened an old wound that has never healed for some residents.

“It’s horrible – the whole community feels like they’ve lost,” says Martin Gladstone, a community activist and member of freethebeaches.com, the new website and Facebook group lobbying against the sublease request.

Gladstone says the history of the arrangement is key to understanding why people are upset now.

“There’s been enormous frustration for years,” Gladstone says.

Tuggs won the contract back in 2010 by bringing an unsolicited proposal to city council which was championed by then councillor Sandra Bussin, who argued that if the city opened up the food contract to bids, a large corporation might take over rather than a ma and pa shop.

On Bussin’s advice, council ultimately approved the deal. However the issue ultimately led to Bussin’s 2010 election loss amid allegations that Tuggs owner George Foulidis and his staff made large contributions to her election campaign. However no laws were ever found to have been broken and it was never substantiated that Bussin helped secure the contract because of donations.

Since the exclusive arrangement was signed, Foulidis has upheld his end of the deal, completing $2.15 million in capital improvements to the premises and paying a further $200,000 for capital improvements in Woodbine Beach Park.

But earlier this year, Foulidis opened a Tim Hortons franchise alongside his Athens Bakery at the site of his former Boardwalk Café site at 1681 Lake Shore Boulevard East. In July, Carter’s Landing, a Cara-operated restaurant quietly replaced the former Tuggs-operated restaurant at the site.

Tuggs is not allowed to sublease the premises without permission from the city, but the city has allowed Carter’s Landing to continue operating while approval of the overall sublease is decided.

For his part, Gladstone says that he’s disappointed that the city did not sanction Tuggs for subleasing restaurant space to Cara without permission and then further recommended that the sublease agreement be approved with offering any other possible avenues (He says city staff have since adopted a neutral position with regards to the lease agreement rather than arecommendation).

“Without consent from the city, the tenant sublet the restaurant to the largest restaurant chain in Canada,” Gladstone says.

Gladstone says that the exclusive deal has also meant that some community groups face an added complication when it comes to holding events that involve food because they have to obtain permission from Tuggs.

The staff report does not say what the sublease deal would be worth to Tuggs.

“Because it’s between two private corporations, even city councilors can’t look at it,” Gladstone says.

Still, the staff report notes that a sublease is within the tenants’ rights and that “the city’s consent cannot be unreasonably or arbitrarily withheld or unduly delayed.”

However Gladstone, a lawyer himself who ran for council in 2010, believes that there is room for the city to push back and refuse the sublease. He says he’s hoping that the website and Facebook group will send a message to the city that residents are not happy with the proposed arrangement.

“The objective is for the city not to be bullied into consenting to a tenant that is in violation of its lease,” he says. “We’re hoping it will lead to a conversation and a dialogue.”

Ward 32 Councillor Mary Margaret McMahon could not be reached for comment.

A call to Foulidis’ Tim Hortons location was not returned.